How to Make Old Programs Work on Windows 10
If an older application isn’t working properly, try right-clicking its shortcut or .exe file, and then selecting “Run as Administrator” to launch it with administrative permissions.
If you find that an app does require administrative access, you can set the app to always run as administrator using the compatibility settings we discuss in the next section.
Adjust Compatibility Settings
Once you have the file’s location, right-click the app’s shortcut or .exe file, and then select “Properties” from the context menu.
On the “Compatibility” tab of the app’s properties window, you can click the “Use the compatibility troubleshooter” button for a wizard interface or just adjust the options yourself.
For example, if an application doesn’t run properly on Windows 10 but did run properly on Windows XP, select the “Run this program in compatibility mode for” option, and then select “Windows XP (Service Pack 3)” from the dropdown menu.
Install Unsigned Drivers or 32-bit Drivers
The 64-bit version of Windows 10 uses driver signature enforcement and requires all drivers have a valid signature before they can be installed. 32-bit versions of Windows 10 normally don’t require signed drivers. The exception to this is that 32-bit versions of Windows 10 running on a newer PC with UEFI (instead of regular BIOS) often do require signed drivers. Enforcing signed drivers helps improve security and stability, protecting your system from drivers that are malicious or simply unstable. You should only install unsigned drivers if you know they’re safe and have a good reason to do so.
If old software you want to install does need unsigned drivers, you’ll have to use a special boot option to install them. If only 32-bit drivers are available, you’ll have to use the 32-bit version of Windows 10 instead—the 64-bit version of Windows 10 requires 64-bit drivers. Use this process if you need to switch to the 32-bit version, downloading the 32-bit version of Windows 10 instead of the 64-bit version.
Run Games That Require SafeDisc and SecuROM DRM
Windows 10 won’t run older games that use SafeDisc or SecuROM DRM. These digital rights management schemes can cause quite a few problems. Overall, it’s a good thing that Windows 10 doesn’t allow this junk to install and pollute your system. Unfortunately, it does mean that some older games that came on physical CDs or DVDs won’t install and run normally.
You have a variety of other options for playing these games, including searching for a “no CD” crack (which are potentially very unsafe, as they’re often found on shady piracy sites), repurchasing the game from a digital distribution service like GOG or Steam, or checking the developer’s website to see if it offers a patch that removes the DRM.
More advanced tricks include installing and dual-booting into an older version of Windows without this restriction, or attempting to run the game in a virtual machine with an older version of Windows. A virtual machine may even work well for you, since games using these DRM schemes old enough now that even a virtual machine can likely handle their graphics demands.
Use Virtual Machines for Older Software
All you really need is a virtual machine program like VirtualBox and a spare Windows XP license. Install that copy of Windows in the VM and you can run software on that older version of Windows in a window on your Windows 10 desktop.
Using a virtual machine is a somewhat more involved solution, but it will work well unless the app needs to interface with hardware directly. Virtual machines tend to have limited support for hardware peripherals.
Use Emulators for DOS and Windows 3.1 Applications
And, since Windows 3.1 itself was basically a DOS application, you can install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox and run old 16-bit Windows 3.1 applications, too.
Use 32-Bit Windows for 16-bit Software
16-bit programs no longer function on 64-bit versions of Windows. The 64-bit version of Windows just doesn’t contain the WOW16 compatibility layer that allows 16-bit apps to run. Try to run a 16-bit application on a 64-bit version of Windows and you’ll just see a “This app can’t run on your PC” message.
If you do need to run 16-bit apps, you’ll need to install the 32-bit version of Windows 10 instead of the 64-bit version. The good news is that you don’t really have to reinstall your entire operating system. Instead, you can just install a 32-bit version of Windows inside a virtual machine and run the application there. You could even install Windows 3.1 in DOSBox.